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Walker, Texas singer

Eight years ago, hitmaking country crooner Clay Walker found out he has MS. Now he uses his fame, and his voice, to help others with the disease.

By Associated Press
Published March 29, 2004

DALLAS - The title cut from Clay Walker's latest album, A Few Questions, asks: "How in this world can we put a man on the moon and still have a need for a place like St. Jude's?"

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis treats kids with cancer. Walker didn't write the song, but the first time he heard it, he said, "I got it immediately. There was no mistaking that the song would belong to my life."

That's because the 34-year-old country crooner with the black cowboy hat, who has sold 8-million albums and notched 11 No. 1 singles, was diagnosed in 1996 with multiple sclerosis.

No one would ever guess it, though, by looking at the strapping Texan, who takes a daily injection of Copaxone to keep his MS in check.

"When I was first diagnosed, it was the most broken that I've ever been. You know, I don't think faith is faith until you have to test it," said Walker, a Christian who will kick off a nationwide, 15-city "MS Road Tour" on Thursday in Dallas.

"It was like, my faith lit on fire at that point," said the Houston resident, who is married with two daughters, ages 4 and 8. "I went home and I got on my knees and I prayed. I don't know how long I prayed and cried. I got my guitar and I played hymns I learned as a child."

The tour, an effort to call attention to the disease and raise money for research to find a cure, marks a remarkable transformation for the singer, who first experienced facial spasms and numbness in his right leg and arm eight years ago.

For a long time, Walker preferred not to talk about the disease. After meeting people with MS at many of his concerts, though, Walker's outlook changed.

They wanted to know about his experience so they could relate it to their own lives, he said. At the same time, he was surprised to learn that many people with MS don't treat the condition, either out of fear or ignorance.

"It's a serious disease, and the worst thing you can do about it is nothing," said Walker, whose No. 1 hits include If I Could Make a Living, This Woman and This Man and Then What.

Last year, Walker started the nonprofit Band Against MS Foundation to raise money for research. The foundation recently awarded its first grant, for $150,000, to the University of Texas at Houston.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society recognized Walker in November with its Ambassador of the Year award, only the fourth time in the organization's 58-year history that it has bestowed that honor.

About 400,000 Americans have MS, which starts with such symptoms as numbness, tingling and fatigue but progresses to difficulty walking and seeing and, in some cases, paralysis. It usually strikes people ages 20 to 40.

Some patients, including Walker, have periods of severe symptoms after which they almost totally recover until the next attack. For others, the flares become more frequent.

MS occurs when the immune system attacks the fatty layer of insulation, called myelin, that protects nerve fibers in the brain and spine, damaging or even destroying nerves.

"It's much more than an eye-opening experience," Walker said."I just look out of a different window now. The window is much bigger now, and it's also raised up so I can smell the flowers."

[Last modified March 29, 2004, 01:35:34]

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